Stanford’s Official Mascot

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

Stanford stadium signage

Stanford’s Official Mascot

In the vibrant world of college sports, mascots play a pivotal role in shaping a university’s identity and fostering a sense of community. Among the many mascots that have captured the imagination of students and fans alike, the story of the Stanford mascot stands out as a unique and intriguing tale.

Unlike other universities that have long-established mascots, Stanford’s situation is marked by a rich history and an unconventional symbol that has become synonymous with the institution.

The significance of mascots in collegiate culture

Mascots are more than mere symbols; they are embodiments of a university’s spirit, pride, and cultural heritage. In the context of collegiate culture, mascots serve as unifying figures that rally students, alumni, and fans, creating a sense of belonging and shared identity.

Stanford University’s official mascot, though unofficial in its current form as the Tree, has become a beloved and recognizable icon that resonates with the Stanford community. Its whimsical appearance and lively presence at sporting events encapsulate the creativity and individuality that Stanford celebrates, making it a distinctive part of the university’s legacy.

Introduction to Stanford’s unique mascot situation

The story of the Stanford mascot is unlike any other in the world of college sports. After retiring the “Indian” mascot in 1972 due to growing concerns about cultural sensitivity, Stanford found itself without an official symbol.

The university’s band, known for its irreverent and unconventional performances, introduced the Tree as an unofficial mascot, and it quickly captured the hearts of the Stanford community.

The Tree’s quirky charm and the absence of an official mascot have led to ongoing debates and discussions, reflecting Stanford’s commitment to innovation, inclusivity, and a willingness to embrace the unconventional. This unique mascot situation continues to fascinate and perplex, adding to the rich tapestry of Stanford’s cultural landscape.

Does Stanford have an unofficial mascot?

At this time, Stanford University does not have an official mascot. However, a fun fact about this institution is that they got their motivation to boost school spirit and solidarity from a tree. The complete opposite of Stanford University’s official mascot, the unofficial character of Stanford school spirit is called “The Tree”. It is an integral and indispensable part of the Stanford Band.

Stanford campus sprawled with students

The Tree is reminiscent of El Palo Alto, the iconic redwood tree that serves as the emblem for the city of Palo Alto in California.

It is a logical progression of this relationship that Stanford University and Palo Alto are nearly inextricably interwoven in terms of their interests and locations.

This kind of tree is still around and can be found standing next to the railroad bridge that crosses San Francisquito Creek; this is the location where the earliest early settlers in the area set up camp as they were exploring the area.

The unofficial mascot also bears the university’s symbol. The Tree wears a new costume every year, which typically includes brightly colored leaves, a smile that is reminiscent of a cartoon character, and googly eyes.

What are Stanford’s official colors?

In 1891, when Stanford was first opening its doors to students, the student body really voted for gold to be the school’s official color.

However, another student assembly chose Cardinal to be the school color. After Stanford’s victory over Cal in the inaugural Big Game, local sportswriters started picking up on the “Cardinal” theme a few days after the election (March 19, 1892). The headlines all say that Cardinal Wins Over Blue and Gold.

Cardinal remained the school color until the 1940s when rules committees and conferences began regulating jersey colors for home and visiting football teams.

At that time, home teams wore red jerseys, and away teams wore white jerseys. The Board of Athletic Control at Stanford decided to go with white as their second color.

center plaza of Stanford University

Cardinal red and white are the colors that represent Stanford University as its official school colors. Had the school decided to have a new Stanford University official mascot, cardinal red and white would have been utilized also in all of the mascot’s garments.

What Makes the Tree Mascot So Unique and Recognizable?

The Stanford Tree, though not Stanford University’s official mascot, has become an unmistakable symbol of the university. Its uniqueness lies in its ever-changing design, whimsical appearance, and the freedom it offers to the students who don the costume.

Unlike traditional mascots that adhere to a fixed image, the Stanford Tree is reimagined every year, reflecting the creativity and individuality of the student body. Its presence at sporting events, parades, and campus activities has made it a beloved figure, embodying the innovative spirit that Stanford is renowned for.

The Tree’s distinctiveness sets it apart from other mascots, making it a symbol that is both recognizable and uniquely Stanford.

The creativity and individuality of the Tree costume

The Stanford Tree costume is a canvas for artistic expression, allowing each student who portrays the mascot to infuse it with their personality and creativity. From wild colors to imaginative features, the Tree’s appearance is a celebration of individuality and artistic freedom.

This approach to the mascot has led to a rich array of designs, each reflecting a different facet of the Stanford experience. The Tree’s ever-changing appearance is a testament to the university’s commitment to fostering creativity, encouraging students to think outside the box, and embracing the unconventional.

The Tree’s role in Stanford’s sports events and traditions

At Stanford, the Tree is more than just a mascot; it’s a vibrant part of the university’s sports culture and traditions. Though not the official mascot, the Tree’s lively antics, energetic dance moves, and enthusiastic support for the teams have made it a central figure at games and events.

Its presence adds a unique flair to Stanford’s sporting landscape, engaging fans and players alike. The Tree’s role extends beyond the sports arena, becoming a symbol of Stanford’s community spirit, innovation, and the joyous celebration of life that permeates the campus.

Public reception: Love, confusion, and everything in between

The Stanford Tree’s reception has been as varied and unique as the mascot itself. For many within the Stanford community, the Tree is a beloved figure that encapsulates the university’s ethos.

However, its unconventional appearance and the absence of an official mascot have also led to confusion and debate. Some see the Tree as a charming symbol of Stanford’s creativity, while others find it perplexing or even controversial.

The public’s diverse reactions to the mascot add to its intrigue, reflecting the complexities of identity, tradition, and cultural expression. The Tree’s ability to evoke such a wide range of emotions is a testament to its power as a symbol and its place in the rich tapestry of Stanford’s cultural landscape.

How Has the Tree Mascot Influenced Stanford’s Culture and Identity?

The influence of the Tree mascot on Stanford’s culture and identity is profound and multifaceted. Though not Stanford University’s official mascot, the Tree has become a symbol that resonates deeply with the Stanford community.

Its ever-changing design and whimsical nature reflect the university’s commitment to creativity, innovation, and individual expression. The Tree’s presence at sporting events, campus activities, and community gatherings has helped shape a unique cultural identity that sets Stanford apart.

It has become a unifying figure that embodies the spirit of the university, fostering a sense of pride, community, and connection among students, alumni, and fans.

The Tree- a symbol of Stanford’s innovative spirit

Stanford’s reputation as a hub of innovation and forward-thinking is mirrored in the Tree mascot. Unlike traditional mascots that adhere to a fixed design, the Tree is a living symbol that evolves with the creativity of the students who portray it.

This approach to the mascot reflects the university’s innovative spirit, encouraging students to think outside the box, take risks, and embrace new ideas. The Tree’s ever-changing appearance is a visual representation of Stanford’s commitment to pushing boundaries, challenging norms, and fostering an environment where creativity and innovation thrive.

Influence on student life and campus traditions

The Tree’s influence extends beyond sports and into the very fabric of student life and campus traditions at Stanford.

Group of friends taking a selfie using a camera.

As an unofficial symbol that has taken on the role, the Tree has become a central figure in campus events, celebrations, and rituals. Its lively presence adds a unique flair to Stanford’s traditions, infusing them with energy, joy, and a sense of community.

From freshman orientation to graduation ceremonies, the Tree’s role in student life is a testament to its ability to connect people, celebrate diversity, and create a shared sense of identity and belonging.

The Tree’s impact on Stanford’s global image

Internationally, the Stanford Tree has become a recognizable symbol that reflects the university’s unique character and values. Though not Stanford University’s official mascot, the Tree’s unconventional appearance and the story behind its adoption have captured the attention of people around the world.

Its presence in media, sports broadcasts, and international events has helped shape Stanford’s global image as an institution that values creativity, individuality, and inclusivity. The Tree’s impact on Stanford’s global reputation is a reminder of the power of symbols to transcend boundaries, resonate with diverse audiences, and reflect the essence of an institution.

Why did Stanford remove its former mascot?

What were the reasons for the removal of the previous Stanford University’s official mascot? When the Big Game rolls around each year, it is highly probable that you will overhear some of Stanford’s pre-Cardinal alumni reminiscing about the good old days when the school’s mascot was an “Indian.” They remember an Indian mascot that they were forced to give up. What exactly is the backstory behind the Indian that serves as Stanford’s mascot, anyway?

The “Indian” was selected as the mascot for Stanford’s sporting teams in 1930, and it served in that capacity until 1970. The “Indian” is most frequently shown as a cartoonish depiction of a diminutive Native American with an oversized nose.

In November of 1970, a group of Native Americans delivered a petition to the acting Dean of Students in which they voiced their opposition to the resurfacing of an American Indian as Stanford University’s official mascot, specifically the live performances given by Timm Williams or Prince Lightfoot at athletic events for the previous 19 years.

The students had the impression that the acts were an attempt to make fun of Indian religious rituals. The Native American students arranged a meeting with University President Lyman in January 1971 to examine the possibility of terminating the mascot performances.

View of students walking in the school campus

As a result of this initial collective action, the Stanford American Indian Organization Organization (SAIO) was officially constituted as a newly formed organization.

In February of 1972, fifty-five Native American students and staff members at Stanford University delivered a petition to the University Ombudsperson, who then brought it to President Lyman of the university.

In the petition that was submitted in 1972, it was requested that “the use of the Indian symbol be permanently discontinued.” Additionally, it was requested that the University “fulfill its promise to the students of its Native American Program by improving and supporting the program and thereby making its promise to improve Native American education a reality.”

The petition went on to say that the Stanford community was insensitive to the humanity of Native Americans, that the lack of knowledge demonstrated by the name of a race being placed on its entertainment was demonstrated by a lack of knowledge, and that the fact that a race of individuals cannot be entertainment was problematic.

The Indian community felt that the mascot, in all of its incarnations, was disrespectful to Native American culture, stereotyped, and made fun of Indian traditions.

In February of 1972, the Ombudsperson, Lois Amsterdam, presented the petition to President Lyman. She added her own perspective of the situation at the time to the presentation. “The fact that Stanford continued to utilize the Indian emblem throughout the 1970s brings the university’s sad lack of sensitivity and awareness to light and pushes it into the spotlight.”

We have all, knowingly or unknowingly, embraced and supported the usage of the Indian sign on campus, either via our actions or our inactions. We had no ill will against any race group, nor did we want to dishonor any of them with our actions.

Following this, President Lyman made the final and formal decision to do away with the Indian as Stanford University’s official mascot for good.


The story of the Stanford mascot is a rich and complex tapestry that reflects the university’s innovative spirit, commitment to creativity, and willingness to embrace the unconventional.

lady in green sweater looking outside with laptop and mug

From its early days as the “Indian” to the adoption of the Tree as an unofficial symbol, the journey of Stanford’s mascot is a microcosm of the university’s evolution and values.

The Tree’s influence on Stanford’s culture, identity, student life, and global image is profound, shaping a unique and recognizable brand that resonates with people around the world.

It stands as a testament to the power of symbols to connect, inspire, and reflect the essence of an institution.

Reflection on the broader implications for university mascots and identity

The story of the Stanford mascot offers valuable insights into the broader implications for university mascots and identity. It highlights the complex interplay between tradition, cultural sensitivity, creativity, and community engagement that shapes a university’s symbol.

The decision to retire a controversial mascot, the embrace of an unconventional symbol like the Tree, and the ongoing debates around these choices reflect the challenges and opportunities that universities face in defining their identity.

Stanford’s experience with its mascot provides a compelling case study that can inform and inspire other institutions as they navigate the intricate landscape of mascots, identity, and cultural expression.

A closing thought on the enduring charm and perplexity of the Tree

The enduring charm and perplexity of the Tree, Stanford’s unofficial mascot, lies in its ability to capture the imagination, evoke diverse emotions, and reflect the multifaceted character of the university.

Its ever-changing design, whimsical nature, and central role in Stanford’s traditions make it a symbol that is both beloved and debated. The Tree’s unique place in the story of the Stanford mascot is a reminder of the power of creativity, individuality, and innovation to shape a symbol that transcends conventional norms.

It stands as a vibrant and captivating emblem of Stanford’s spirit, a symbol that continues to fascinate, inspire, and reflect the university’s commitment to excellence, inclusivity, and forward-thinking.

Experience Stanford school spirit with our help

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